If you watched Ken Loach's recent film It's A Free World then this will sound eerily familiar. Busloads of Eastern European migrants lured into England with promises of a fast buck, savings and accomodation, only to discover slave labour.
Today's Independent investigation focuses on the biggest fruit growers and suppliers to Tesco and Sainsbury's, a company called S&A that, already back in 2005, grabbed a few headlines (though not enough) over ridiculous working conditions.
The law says that agencies "cannot make unlawful deductions" from pay and that workers "have the right to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage". Yet, the Independent found out that "[F]oreign fruit pickers are paid as little as £45 a week" and a series of 'deductions' are routinely made for "welfare", "transport", "internet access" (which doesn't work) and "accomodation" in dingy caravans where as many as seven workers can sleep together. Once all deductions are taken into account, workers are paid as little as £2.37 an hour.
Four years ago T&G also collected evidence that S&A Produce were charging workers for basic health services and that breaches of contract were frequent.
While the Independent states that "[T]here is no suggestion that S&A, which also uses the name S&A Davies, has broken any employment laws", it also adds that the revelations will also "pile extra pressure on Tesco which was criticised last month by the Unite union for exploiting foreign agency workers in its UK supply chains" and that Sainsbury's have announced they'll talk to S&A to assess the allegations.
So next time the Daily Mail tells you that people coming into this country get a grand deal, look at those cheap strawberries you bought and think how you would like to be stuffed in such small accommodation with no come back for your treatment.